It was the first Christmas in our new house. We’d only moved in a week before, but I wanted it to feel like home. What better way than making a festive, cozy holiday atmosphere? So after I unpacked the everyday items, and arranged some furniture, I decided to tackle the Christmas decorations.
As I was winding a string of small twinkle lights around the tree, my daughter watched me intently. Since the first night in the house, she hadn’t wanted to leave my side. I knew she was still getting used to the place, and thought some holiday cheer would help her feel more at ease. At three years old, I really hoped this season she was finally at an age to enjoy all the holiday trimmings.
So after I finished wrapping the tree in lights, I plugged them in and said, “Ta da! What do you think of the Christmas tree, honey?”
To my surprise, my daughter backed up, wide-eyed, and started shaking her head back and forth.
I was a bit perplexed, looking over at the little red lights that blinked on and off across the branches. “Don’t you like it?” I asked.
She kept shaking her head. “No. No no no.” She even started tearing up.
Still confused, I took her hands and asked her what was wrong. “Why don’t you like the tree? Are the lights too bright? Should we add some ornaments?”
She replied tearfully. “No. Don’t like it. Looks like the lights in my room. I don’t like them.” Then she cried even harder.
I didn’t understand her; her room was still mostly bare, an old un-decorated room at the back of the house. I hadn’t put any lights up there yet. But I figured, three-year-olds are fickle! She’d probably love the tree tomorrow, when she was in a different mood. “Okay, sweetie,” I said, and turned off the red lights. “We don’t have to finish the tree today.”
She calmed down after that, but wanted to hold my hand for nearly the rest of the day, peering at the tree every so often like it was some big green monster.
After more unpacking, decorating, and making dinner, I was exhausted come nighttime. I had added more twinkle lights to the mantle and bannister, and with each new strand my daughter had gotten more and more upset. I really didn’t know what to make of her reaction, but I knew we could both use a good night’s sleep. For the past six nights she had cried to sleep in my bed with me. Tonight she had to stay in her room.
After getting ready for bed, I took her to her room, nearly dragging her the last few feet. She was almost inconsolable, holding me tightly and crying, “No, don’t like the lights!” I was exasperated but she wasn’t going down easy, so I held her on her bed, gently rocking her back and forth. “Okay, sweetie, it’s fine. We’ll take care of the lights tomorrow. I’ll stay right here until you fall asleep.”
Still she cried, and whispered, “No, no lights,” over and over. I kept rocking and patting her, until we both started settling, getting sleepy....
It must have been a few hours later, I came awake, still holding my daughter on her bed. It was alarmingly dark. I realized groggily I’d fallen asleep in her room, then tried to remember why I’d woken.
Then I heard the sound.
A creak, low but long, like a hinge turning slowly.
I stared into the room. It was too dark to see much, but after a pause, I heard another creak. It sounded too close to be the room door. But maybe...the closet door? Was it... opening?
There came one more creak. Silence. Then, a shuffle.
Step. Shuffle. Step.
Still asleep, my daughter started to whimper.
Fighting a rising panic, I stared hard into the room, trying to see anything in the darkness.
Darkness until.... a sudden glow of lights. Small, red lights, inside the closet. Red, flashing. Then gone.
I had imagined it, hadn’t I? But then.
Shuffle. Step. Step. Step.
I choked on my scream when the lights came back.
A set of red lights. Glittery, hard, cold.
At the foot of the bed. Like the little red bulbs on the Christmas tree. Except not like the Christmas tree.
Because the red lights didn’t twinkle.
Two red Christmas lights, but not Christmas lights at all.
They were eyes.
It was the first and the last Christmas in our new house.